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Nikola slowed by chip shortages, but work to produce trucks continues

Nikola Motor continues to push forward with plans to produce battery-electric and fuel-cell-electric trucks, stressing that company founder Trevor Milton personally shoulders fraud charges linked to claims about the OEM’s technology and sales.

“The approximately 100 pages of charges against Trevor are against Trevor personally,” CEO Mark Russell said Monday, responding to questions from financial analysts during the release of second-quarter results.

Milton was taken into custody last week and released on US $100 million bail.

Nikola
The Nikola Tre. (Photo: Nikola)

But supply chain shortages of microchips and other components are slowing plans to sell the first Nikola Tre units in 2021. The emerging OEM now plans to build between 25 and 50 pre-production units by the end of the year, down from earlier projections of 50 to 100.

“The ones that we’re worried most about are the ones that are dependent on chips,” Russell said of the shortages. “Electronic components, sensors, touch screens, things like that.”

“This is the worst that I’ve seen it in my career,” he added. “It’s just unprecedented how widespread it is and how acute it is for many parts, and right now it appears to be spreading a little.”

In-service targets

The first battery-electric Nikola trucks are still expected to be hauling freight for California-based Total Transportation Services (TTSI) by late this year, even if the actual VIN numbers can’t be transferred right away, Russell said.

“Our goal would be to retrofit those trucks when the trucks arrive.”

Other trucks are destined for demonstration fleets within Nikola’s network of 116 sales and service locations.

In the meantime, the business is also aggressively sourcing the all-important battery-electric cells and paying related deposits, said CFO Kim Brady.

Russell also stressed to analysts that there is a future for battery-electric and fuel-cell-electric trucks.

“Nobody is working on new diesel vehicles,” he said, referring as well to jurisdictions that placing ever-tighter restrictions on emissions. “Everybody needs zero-emission trucks. Everybody wants them.”

Alpha and beta trucks

Five “alpha” versions of the battery-electric Nikola Tre cabover are now being evaluated on North American test tracks, and another nine “beta” units that improve on the earlier prototypes are complete. Three of the newer units are already heading for U.S. proving grounds, and the remainder will follow by the end of the month, Russell said.

Nikola also reports it has completed Phase 0.5 of its manufacturing facility in Coolidge, Ariz., which will be producing seven trucks including a pair of battery-electric pre-build units and five alpha prototypes. The Phase 1 assembly expansion area is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year, the OEM says.

In Europe, trial production of two trucks began on June 14 in Ulm, Germany, through a joint venture with Iveco.

In terms of the hydrogen for fuel cells, Nikola has acquired a 20% stake in Wabash Valley Resources, which is developing a clean hydrogen project in West Terra Haute, Ind. It will use solid waste byproducts such as petroleum coke and biomass to make hydrogen.

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